This week I attended my first self rescue practice session to learn how to rescue a follower in vertical terrain. We covered escaping the belay, counter balance and tandem rappels, knot passing, and raising systems. While I’ve covered these skills individually, it was fascinating to learn how to use them in conjunction with each other while still maintaining proper and clean rope systems. This is a last-ditch effort if you need to bail off the mountain NOW with an injured partner. The main principle for this series of events is as follows.
Escaping the Belay
- Go hands free while belaying from above. This allows you to use both hands without worry of dropping your injured follower.
- Create a friction hitch with a load-releasable hitch attached to the climbers strand below the belay device.
- Setup a load-releasable hitch behind the belay device to lower the climber after you remove your belay device.
- Remove the belay device.
- Release the original load-releasable hitch on the climbers strand to weight the load-releasable hitch that was behind the belay device.
- Your climber is now being belayed by the second load-releasable hitch and you escaped the belay.
Counter Balance Rappel
Ideally you would leave insert this after step 4 in “escaping the belay” as it makes for an easier transition.
- Use a bailout carabiner between the two load-releasable friction hitches as your rappel anchor.
- Set up your extended rappel behind the second load-releasable friction hitch along with an autoblock backup.
- Remove the second load-releasable friction hitch as your rappel device now acts as an anchor.
- Release the first load-releasable friction hitch placing the complete weight of the climber onto the second load-releasable friction hitch.
- Attach the friction hitch of the first load-releasable hitch to your belay loop as a backup.
- Test your rappel strand.
- Remove your clove hitch and rappel to the victim.
This is where things get even more complicated! You need to now transition to another anchor and set up for a full length rappel with an unconscious or injured victim. Once you reach your partner and tend first aid, you will rappel using the same techniques to the second anchor.
- When you reach the next rappel station, untie the rope going to your harness to the victim. You are backed up via the rappel device.
- Thread the loose end through the rappel ring of the new rappel station and tie it into the victim.
- Create a load-releasable hitch onto your belay loop.
- Clean the system once you are sure the system is secure.
- Untie the original strand from the victim and pull the remaining rope through the old rappel anchors. Before that strand is out of reach, pull a bit of rope through the rappel ring to set up your next rappel.
- Pull rope through the rappel ring until you have reached the mid-point of the rope.
- Set up an extended rappel with an autoblock on the two new strands off the rappel anchor.
- Set up an extended rappel on your victim, clipping their carabiner through the rappel device to increase friction.
- Test the rappel device and remove the load-releasable hitch from your harness, untie the strand from your victim, tie a knot at the end of the strand and rappel.
This was a great training opportunity to improve my climbing skills and add more tools to the toolbox to allow me to become a more self-sufficient climber. Our next and final practical session of the class will be putting these skills to use in the vertical world!
Special Note: Climbing is dangerous! This is one way that I learned the skills today. Please do not use this as a guide as I am a student learning these skills. If you want to learn more about self rescue, take a course or check out Self-Rescue by David Fasulo.